Apr 16

Great friendship, good memories, and Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce.

On Super Bowl weekend of this year my dearest and longest friend Wayne came to Seattle for a visit. It is not too often that Brian and I get visitors, so as you can imagine this was a big deal to us. If you read the post I wrote quite a while ago about Lithuanian Borscht and my friend Wayne, then you know how much I value our friendship and what his thoughts are on food. I had a list in my mind of places to show him and things to eat…Theo’s Chocolate Factory (and taste all the chocolate you want), Pike Place Market, Honore Bakery, eat oysters, slurp Pho, eat pizza that I made, the space needle, the Seattle Waterfront, The Ballard Locks & Salmon Latter, Golden Gardens Park, and more. My mind was racing with ideas, and he was only here for a weekend. Did I mention I had to work the whole weekend too? Luckily, Brian filled in for me. We did so much together, and somewhere in there too we watched the Super Bowl.

A slice of the famous crumb cake, and the cook book Wayne brought me.

A slice of the famous crumb cake, and the cook book Wayne brought me.

But the best part of Wayne’s visit was he came baring gifts! Well to be honest he did ask if there was anything Brian and I wanted form New Jersey. I responded with the one thing that I knew Brian would enjoy immensely. I asked for a crumb cake from a B & W Bakery where Brian grew up. It is famous in New Jersey, along with the outlining areas. This crumb cake is known for having more crumb than cake. The cake is light and I’m not sure how it holds itself up under the dense, sweet, and thickly heavy crumb line. To me this crumb cake embodies a flavor that you just don’t get outside of the east coast or the tri state area for that matter. Brian was so happy and surprised with it, but there was something else that Wayne brought with him. A cook book of Marcella Hazan: “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking”. I have known of her cooking and have tried a recipe or two off the internet but I didn’t have any of her books. Wayne confessed that he has worked his way through his own copy. He said he was in love with the simplicity and deliciousness of it all. He told me there was a Tomato Sauce recipe that consisted of tomatoes, an onion cut in half, and butter. His eyes widened as he told me – You will not believe how delicious it is! Okay, I was sold and had to try it.

The simple tomato sauce simmering away.

The simple tomato sauce simmering away.

So tried it I did. Again, and again, and again…you get my point! There is just a beautiful simplistic taste; and the texture that comes from it is velvety smooth. Upon first making the sauce I must admit that the smell and aroma took me back. I could picture myself as a little girl eating a Sunday dinner with my grandparents. The smell reminded me of going with my mom to the home of any of her aunts so she could do their hair (my mom was a beautician). Each aunt would fix me a snack while I watched my mom tease, curl, and spray their hair and they would give me a piece of candy as I left. The scent also reminded me of being at my Uncle Louie and Aunt Mary’s home playing with some toys on their carpet while all the adults would sit around the table and talk. All of their homes always had the warm comfort and fragrance that this sauce embodies. (Maybe they should make a perfume like it!?!)So now, just about every time I make this recipe I take a picture of it cooking and text it to Wayne. It will usually spark a whole conversation of texting that makes me giggle and smile. To me our friendship is like this recipe; classic, timeless, and delicious. Thank you Wayne and Marcella Hazan. The smell of this sauce brings back such nice memories I posses of family that have passed on and makes my taste buds incredibly happy.

Marcelle Hazan's tomato sauce served up.

Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce served up.

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce (enough for 1 pound of pasta)

2 cups of tomatoes, in their own juices (I have used a 28 oz can of Muir Glen whole, peeled tomatoes)

5 tbsp of butter

1 regular onion, peeled and cut in ½

Sea Salt, to taste

First; place the tomatoes, butter, and onion a medium sauce pan with a pinch of sea salt. Place the pan over medium to medium low heat.

Next; let your mixture simmer for about 45 minutes (uncovered). You will want to stir it occasionally. While stirring you should press down on the tomatoes with the back of you spoon to break down the tomatoes.

Then; after your sauce has simmered for 45 minutes remove the onion and give it a taste. Adjust the seasoning if you like. If you would like to puree your sauce you can do so at this time.

Finally; toss your sauce with the pasta of your liking. Serve with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and if you are like me, a bit of fresh basil.

*Note: this sauce freezes nicely too.

Apr 09

Baked Sweet Potato Fries with Creamy Lime Dip

Growing up one of the special treats my mom would prepare for dinner anywhere from autumn to spring was a baked sweet potato. I loved diving into its bright orange interior after spreading a small pat of butter over it and sprinkling it with salt and black pepper. I loved it’s lusciously velvety texture and earthy sweet taste. I loved it so much, and to be honest I would scrape it clean down to its skin. It was an intense food experience for a young Italian American girl form New Jersey!

As I grew up, moved away, traveled, and started cooking on my own I discovered there were endless possibilities when it comes to a sweet potato. I have sautéed, roasted, steamed, pureed, made soups, fillings, and even stews with them. It was like a new revelation in each sweet potato cooking experiment. Of all the alternative ways I tried to prepare them, I was miffed when it came to sweet potato fries. As simple as it sounds I really struggle with this. I tried many different ways to fry them and they came up underwhelming, and unsatisfied. They were either soggy, too crispy, really dark in color, somewhat undercooked, and just straight up bad! So the other night I baked my sweet potato fries, the result was pure awesome. They were crispy and tender without the fuss of deep frying. Not to mention by baking them they are much healthier option. But there is a bad side to this…They were so easy to make these may become a regular occurrence! That and the creamy lime dipping sauce I paired them with. Trust me on this one – baked sweet potato fries are not short of being impressive.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries, right out of the oven

Baked Sweet Potato Fries, right out of the oven

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

*Note: Figure at least one average sized potato per person for this recipe.

Sweet potatoes, cleaned well

Olive oil

Sea salt

Black pepper, freshly ground

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Slice your sweet potato in half lengthwise (keeping the skin on). Follow by then slicing your half in half again; lengthwise. Take each of your quarters and slice them again in the same fashion. You are looking to get 10 to 14 pieces from each sweet potato depending on the sweet potatoes size. So each sweet potato piece should be no bigger than an inch thick.

Next, line a sheet pan or two (depending on how many sweet potatoes you are making) with parchment paper. Lay the sweet potato slices on the pans spacing them apart slightly. Brush the sweet potatoes lightly with olive oil on all sides. Sprinkle them with the sea salt and black pepper and place them in the oven for 30-40 minutes, rotating and stirring them half way though.

Finally, keeping an eye on your sweet potatoes you are looking for them to be golden and slightly crispy. When they do appear to be crispy on the outside and tender on the inside when pierced they are done. Serve while hot.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries, with Creamy Lime Dip

Baked Sweet Potato Fries, with Creamy Lime Dip

Creamy Lime Dip (makes about 1 cup)

3 tbsp of sour cream

2 tbsp of Greek yogurt

2 tbsp of mayo

¼ cup of onion, minced

1 lime, zested and juiced

¼ tsp of ground cumin

Sea salt to taste

First, place all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk it well until it looks creamy and even. Taste it to adjust the seasoning.

Finally, place in the mixture in the refrigerator and chill for at least an hour before serving. (Can be made ahead of time and stored in a sealed container for up to for days.)

Apr 01

Mango Salsa

We have approached that in between season here in Seattle. The farmer’s markets are somewhat bare when it comes to fruit and veggies. Besides cabbage and some root veggies that are dominate I am left uninspired. As always we try to eat local, fresh, and with the season; but now is when I find it really difficult to do. This is when I venture outside my realm and dip into the fruit and veggies that come from elsewhere.

The makings of a great mango Salsa

The makings of a great mango Salsa

This is when I find myself indulging in dried fruits, more frozen fruits, and at the moment: something a bit tropical!?! I was walking through Whole Foods the other day and there were a huge pile of mangos.  They were bright yellow, and had a slight give to the touch. I knew they were ripe so I picked some up with no particular plan in mind. (I will still never understand why I do things like this.) The mangos sat in my fruit bowl about two days. I kept glancing at them but I was waiting for inspiration to strike.  It just so would happen that we were having a gloomy day with it being real rainy and windy. I wanted to brighten it up – make it feel warm and sunny like the spring day we all wish for. Then, I thought of those mangos. I grabbed my umbrella and through on my rain boots and headed down to Pike Place Market. One red onion, some jalapenos, fresh mint, limes, and fresh shrimp…I knew the perfect meal for us to enjoy.

Mango Salsa

Mango Salsa

I got home and started in on making some fresh tortillas. (Sorry, after living in Phoenix for ten years with fresh ones always available the store bought ones here do not compare.) Once the tortillas were made; I quickly minced and diced away at the mango, and other ingredients. Squeezed some lime juice over it all and popping it all in the refrigerator to mingle together and chill out for a while. Meanwhile, Brian cleaned the shrimps and we tossed them in some olive oil salt and pepper. We placed the shrimps on a piping hot grill pan and let them sear until they were cooked through. The tortillas, some sour cream, hot shrimp…topped it off with the mango salsa I made and a bright and cheery meal was served. I made us feel the warmth of spring and summer coming. I forgot all about that rain and wind I battled to get my ingredients. I must thank the mangos though. They were sweet, juicy, and so ripe that they were perfection.

Mango Salsa on a Shrimp Taco

Mango Salsa on a Shrimp Taco

Mango Salsa (makes about 2 cups)

*Although I made this to go with Shrimp tacos, this is a great condiment for any grilled fish, grilled chicken, and even over tofu (the way I ate it).

2 mangos, diced

¼ cup red onion, small diced

1 jalapeno, seeds removed and diced small

About 2 – 3 sprigs of mint, leaves picked and finely sliced

1 lime, zested and juiced

Pinch of Sea Salt

First; in a bowl place the mango, red onion, jalapeno, mint, lime zest, and juice. Sprinkle some sea salt over it and toss it well. Cover it with plastic wrap directly on it and place it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to an hour.

Finally, upon serving remove the salsa from the refrigerator and toss again. Give it a taste, if you feel that your jalapeno is a bit strong in the mixture feel free to sprinkle a bit of honey (1 tsp) or a bit of sugar (1 tsp) over it all and toss again. This will help the flavors mellow out a bit…but only if you feel it needs it. Serve immediately.

Note: this is one of those items that I like to make the day I am eating it or the night before at the most. It will keep for a day or two if refrigerated and wrapped well, but letting it longer than that it will begin to get mushy. 

Mar 26

Ricotta Cake with Raspberry and Honey Puree

It has been just too nice here the past couple of days. I have been taking Martini and Latte for extra- long walks to soak up some sunshine and shake off the long winter blues. Although who are we to complain? Compared to the rest of the country we have had a really mild winter.

Latte and Martini enjoying some early spring sun outside a local cafe.

Latte and Martini enjoying some early spring sun outside a local cafe.

This weather makes me think of the springs I enjoyed growing up. Spring makes me think of happiness and it also brings up memories of family Sunday dinners on a warm sunny day. They were always a bit nicer than the dinners from the rest of the week. We would all sit down together, and afterwards spend some time outside. We would go for a walk or visit with other family, but after all of that…we would have a dessert! That thought of dessert lead me to make a Ricotta Cake the other night.

Ricotta Cake

Ricotta Cake

It is a simple and light dessert. In my personal opinion it is not too sweet, not too heavy, and its texture & taste is fitting for a bright and sunny spring day. I always serve it up with a real simple berry sauce of some kind. This dessert reminds me of something my Aunt Kim would have made for all of us to have after one of these meals. It also reminds me of the type of dessert my maiden grandmother would have liked. So after dinner the other night (and every night after that until it was gone) Brian and I enjoyed some Ricotta Cake with a Raspberry and Honey Puree. It was light, simple, and perfect to reflect the sunny days we have been enjoying. Try it for yourself; I am sure it will be love at first taste.

Ricotta Cake with Raspberry and Honey Puree

Ricotta Cake with Raspberry and Honey Puree

Ricotta Cake (serves 10 – 12)

1 cup sugar

1 ½ lbs whole milk ricotta

5 eggs

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

¼ cup AP flour

½ tsp of sea salt

Powdered Sugar (optional)

First, preheat your oven to 375 degrees and butter all sides of a 9 to 10 inch spring form pan; then sprinkle them with flour. Place your ricotta was in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to smooth out the curds of the cheese.

Next, separate your eggs. In a large bowl place your ricotta, sugar, vanilla seeds, and yolks. Whisk them together well until it is smooth. In the bowl of an electric mixer place your egg whites and whisk on high until double the volume and holds a soft peak.

Then, sprinkle the top of your cheese mixture with your flour and sea salt. Mix it together until it is just combined. Then fold you whipped egg whites into it all. Keep folding until it it a smooth and light looking batter. Pour the mixture into your prepared pan, place in the center of your oven for about an hour. You are looking for the top of your cake to be slightly golden and set in the center (not jigglly).

Finally, when your cake is done let it cool about an hour at room temperature. Then place it in your refrigerator to chill completely (about 3 – 4 hours). Once cake is chilled you can remove it from the pan carefully, before slicing and serving. Will keep for up to four days in your refrigerator, and covered with plastic. If you like you can dust with powdered sugar upon serving.

This Raspberry and Honey Puree is so good you will want to scoop up every last bit.

This Raspberry and Honey Puree is so good you will want to scoop up every last bit.

Raspberry Honey Puree (makes about 1 ½ cups)

Notes: being that the berries are not quite in and ripe yet this season you can easily replace the berries with frozen ones. Just let them defrost before using.

2 – 3 cups raspberries

¼ cup honey

First, place your berries in your food processor and pulse to break it all down. Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and scrape your raspberry puree into your strainer.

Next, gently press on your raspberry pulp to release all the juice into the bowl below. When you feel you have all the juice that you can scrape out of the berry seeds and pulp, discard the pulp and seeds that remain in the strainer.

Finally, pour you honey into the strained raspberry mixture and whisk it all together. Once it appears that the honey has dissolved it is ready to serve. This will keep refrigerated for about a week, once covered and sealed well.

Mar 21

My Aunt Marie and how I love hummus

I have been doing a lot of thinking about hummus lately. Hummus being on my mind has led me to thinking about my Aunt Marie (my father’s only sister). Let me explain (and if you have not realized this already I have a really crazy memory when it comes to family and food), you see I can remember when I first had hummus and it was with my sister and my Aunt. But first I think you have to know a little bit about my Aunt Marie…

My Aunt Marie, my cousins, myself, and my little sister in front with the ET doll. This must be 1982 / 1983. As you can see we loved to play with my aunt growing up. (Picture compliments of my cousin who sent it to me a couple of months back.)

My Aunt Marie, my cousins, myself, and my little sister in front with the ET doll. This must be 1982 / 1983. As you can see we loved to play with my aunt growing up. (Picture compliments of my cousin who sent it to me a couple of months back.)

Growing up, my parents owned a multi-family home (a triplex) in Garfield, New Jersey. The first floor apartment my parents always rented, the second floor was where we resided, and on the third floor there was a small apartment that my Aunt Marie lived in. When I was little I can remember going upstairs to visit her. My sister and I would play games with her, dance in her kitchen (break dancing on occasion), and tell stories. She had a piano and taught me to play chopsticks – needless to say my Aunt Marie was very cool in my and my sister’s opinion. She would take us out shopping with her, we would go to the movies, occasionally she would watch us for my parents, and when my cousins would visit, all of us would have a blast with her. It was great growing up and having her right there. In my late teens, and in the early 90’s, my aunt took my sister and I into New York City for the day. We went to a café for lunch and I can remember she asked if my sister and I would like to have an appetizer, and she pointed out that they had hummus and taro chips. My sister and I did not know what that was. She explained that hummus was a dip or spread made from garbanzo beans. When it got to the table my sister and I dove in and needless to say we really liked it. At the time my Aunt was dating Monir who she married a couple of years later. Our Uncle Monir is Egyptian, and upon knowing we liked the hummus he started to bring it and other Middle Eastern treats for us from a deli he went to. All of the items we would taste were scrumptious, but I had loyalty to the hummus. I later learned how to make hummus on my own and from there on I couldn’t stop.

My most favorite way of eating hummus, with roasted beet and topped with feta.

My most favorite way of eating hummus, with roasted beet and topped with feta.

I tried many different varieties and recipes. I have added countless spices, herbs, other vegetables, paired it with different things too. I once had it with too much garlic – I don’t think my husband was too pleased with me, when he asked for me not to eat it again! But I was on a nonstop hummus mission. Over the past couple months I acquired some new cookbooks, two of them being about Middle Eastern cuisine of one kind or another. Again my hummus inspiration had been rekindled. With lots of garlic aside, I have rediscovered that I love the combination of something deeply roasted along with the hummus recipe below. Like roasted veggies and hummus with some pita (roasted beets with sumac is my favorite). Feta cheese to top it all off and my taste buds are in heaven. The combo is up for you to decide what could be your favorite, but don’t be shy – try them all: carrots, zucchini, eggplant, onion, beets, and so on. It is so much fun and your stomach will be pleased. Thank you Aunt Marie, you have given my taste buds everlasting happiness.

Hummus with olive oil drizzled over the top and some sprinkled sumac.

Hummus with olive oil drizzled over the top and some sprinkled sumac.

Hummus (makes about 1 ½ – 2 cups) Note: if you do not have the preserved lemon you can use fresh lemon zest, about 1 tsp in replace of it. This will cause you to add more salt to taste at the end though than if you were to use the preserved lemon. Once again a recipe for preserved lemons can be found here…I always keep jar of some made in our refrigerator.

1 15oz can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed well

1 large (or 2 small) cloves of garlic, peeled and trimmed

zest of ½ a preserved lemon; rinsed with pith and flesh removed – chopped small

1 tbsp of tahini paste

3-4 tbsp of olive oil, plus more for plating

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

First, fit your food processor with your blade attachment. In the base of your processor add your garbanzos, garlic, and lemon zest. Pulse it all together a couple of times to grind it all up.

Next, add in your tahini paste and a couple tbsp of your olive oil. Begin pulsing your garbanzos again until a smooth mixture begins to form. Feel free to help it along by scraping down the sides a couple times to help it work together.

At this point, your mixture should begin to look smooth. If you feel your mixture is too dry and not looking or feeling smooth adding a tiny bit of water at a time while your food processor is running, until it is smooth and cohesive.

Finally, taste your mixture and see how much sea salt and black pepper you will need to add to it. Add your seasoning and a tbsp or two more of olive oil and pulse it again. Place it all in bowl and cover it well with plastic wrap. Let it sit, refrigerated for at least one hour to let the flavors develop before serving.

Variations: above is how I like my hummus when eating it as a sandwich with the roasted veggie to accompany it. You can use the same recipe as above to serve with a crudité platter. In that case I add a bit of lemon juice to the mixture. The acid in it gives the hummus a nice tang and compliments the raw veggies nicely.

Freshly Roasted Beets, cooking them this way leave you with a tender and sweet vegetable.

Freshly Roasted Beets, cooking them this way leave you with a tender and sweet vegetable.

Roasting Beets: When making a dish like this I like to best go the long way to get the beets roasted. I take the beets trimmed and washed well and lightly coat them in olive oil. I then sprinkle them with sea salt and place them in a 400 degree oven for about 45 min. to an hour (depending on size). They are done when a knife pierces through them easily. Let cool at least 20 minute before handling, and peel the skin off of them and chop up. lightly sprinkle them with some sumac and olive oil before adding it to your hummus.

Mar 17

Chocolate Dipped Graham Crackers

Sometimes I get these cravings out of the blue. Like when we moved into our apartment and all I could think about was Key Lime Pie? Or like when I wake up and all I can think about is Pasta and Broccoli that I have to go to the market and get all the ingredients so that I can have it for dinner. Brian usually goes along with my impulsive cravings. He dives into whatever I create with a random fork, spoon, or knife in  his hand. There are times I find him sneaking in a taste before the dish is even done and he will always openly tell me what he thinks of it. He is very honest and I value his input beyond belief. Why shouldn’t I? As always I credit Brian for pointing me in the direction of culinary school. Without it you would not be reading this right now!

Chocolate Dipped Graham Crackers

Chocolate Dipped Graham Crackers

So when I told Brian that I had a desire for a Chocolate Dipped Graham Cracker, he looked at me over his eye glasses with his eye brow bent and said- Really? Okay, so he was not too thrilled with my craving. But I told him to trust me because I knew he would enjoy the outcome. So I researched a bunch of recipes, and looked high and low for graham flour (a coarsely ground whole wheat flour) and could not find one. Whole wheat pastry flour and wheat bran would replace it without hindering my crackers.

Graham Crackers cooling out  from the oven.

Graham Crackers cooling out from the oven.

I whipped up a bunch of crackers the other night. We snacked on two of them when they were done baking. Brian ate it gently as it was still really warm and exclaimed- These are really tasty! After I was done baking and cooling the crackers and I began to melt the chocolate and started in on dipping all of them. Now I could tell that Brian was interested in what I was creating because he was now up and out of his seat and watching me. (Working with dark chocolate will usually get this arousal out of him!) I told him to go ahead and try one and when he did he was grinning and I could tell he was already planning on how to ration them out to make them last. In Brian’s opinion the cracker develops much more flavor once they are cooled, and the dark chocolate was a nice contrast to the mildly sweet cracker. Now, can you see why I value his opinion so immensely?  These crackers were great and lasted us about a week…I am surprised we held out on them!

Freshly chocolate dipped graham crackers waiting to cool and harden.

Freshly chocolate dipped graham crackers waiting to cool and harden.

Chocolate Dipped Graham Crackers

(amount of crackers to be made will depend on the size you cut them. I did them about 3 1/2 inches square, resulting in over 4 dozen crackers – plus scrap ends from rolling out.)

1 ¼ cup of Whole Wheat Flour

¼ cup of Wheat Bran

1 ½ cup of AP flour

1 tsp of Cinnamon

½ tsp of Cardamom

½ tsp of Baking Soda

1 cup Brown Sugar

1 tbsp of Honey

1 tsp of Vanilla Extract

8 oz of Butter, softened

3 – 4 tbsp Cream

1 pound of Dark Chocolate

First; in the bowl of a standing mixer place your whole wheat flour, wheat bran, AP flour, brown sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, and cardamom. Give it all a quick stir and then place in the butter, with a paddle attachment begin to mix it all together on low speed.

Next, you will notice the mixture will begin look crumbly. When you see that the butter is evenly mixed in to the dry ingredients, add in your vanilla and honey. Continue to mix it together and slowly add the cream, a little bit at a time; until you see your mixture form a ball and hold together.

Then, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Take your dough and divide it up into 4 to 6 pieces (whatever is more manageable for yourself.) Roll out each piece of dough between two pieces of lightly floured parchment to about ¼ of an inch thick. Place the rolled out cracker and parchment in the freezer and chill until firm, about 25 minutes.

Afterwards; when dough is firm to touch cut into desired shapes – square or rectangle (using a knife or a pastry wheel).It is best to cut them uniformly so they bake up evenly. Keeping the cracker dough on the parchment, dock your dough with a fork and place on a cookie sheet and bake until firm. About 8 – 16 minutes, until golden and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and cool.

Finally, over a double boiler gently melt your chocolate until it is smooth. Remove from the heat. Quickly and as neatly as possible dip the desired amount of each cracker (I did the back side) into the chocolate. Let the chocolate drip from cracker before placing it on a piece of parchment to cool and harden. Once chocolate is set be sure to wrap them well and store in a cool dry place for about a week.

Mar 12

Pacific Northwest Mussels

The days here are getting to be really lovely. The sun is shining out from the rain of early spring almost daily and I must admit that the horizon has been looking beautiful. The other day as I walked on down to the waterfront of downtown I had to stop and admire it all for a bit. You could see the Olympic Mountains a way out and they are just so lovey to stop and pay some respect to it all. It was so clear out you could see the details on them that this photo does not do it justice. I could have stood there for an hour but I had to finish my walk!

Olympic Mountains, across the water from downtown

Olympic Mountains, across the water from downtown

To be honest with you growing up in New Jersey you get a little bit of everything when it comes to nature and terrain. You have your four seasons (sometimes to the extreme), plus you have hills, valleys, a coast line, thick tree lined forests, many farms, and mountains. I use to think that Garret Mountain in New Jersey was so large and grand. My family had gone there many times while growing up and visit the castle that is there (that castle coincidentally is the same place that my parents took many of their wedding pictures.) I thought New Jersey had it all. That is until I came out to Seattle for a visit in the summer of 1993. When I saw the snow capped mountains here, it kind of took my breath away. It is a sight like no other when you are not use to seeing it.

While I was walking the other day I stopped by the waterfront and took a long look at the sound and the mountains. I really feel fortunate living here. In walking just a few blocks I am on the water. I can see all of downtown behind me, the stadiums to the south of me, and in front of me you see the sound, the coast line of West Seattle, Bremerton, and Bainbridge Island. The Olympic Mountains are just a bit further than all of it. When you stand there and take in a deep breath you smell a mixture of the sea, wood, and damp soil & rocks below you. It truly makes me smile.

After that I had to go the market and pick up something for dinner that I felt was very fitting of living in the Pacific Northwest. A meal that to me says Seattle. I picked up some mussels, and some local beer. That in combination with some veggies from the farmer’s market was going to be a meal that I know Brian would love! I placed the veggies, the mussels and beer all in the oven along with some potatoes that I chopped and tossed in olive oil. As the mussels steam in the beer and veggies they will pop open and release their juices. All of it together it will create a lovely broth to have with the roasted potatoes. When Brian saw me cleaning the mussels when he got home he was grinning. When we sat down to dinner he was so thankful and agreed that the meal was very fitting for the Pacific Northwest. I told him how beautiful it was overlooking the water and showed him pictures of my day. We are so lucky that we both savor the city here like we do.

Pacific Northwest Muscles

Pacific Northwest Mussels

Pacific Northwest Mussels (serves 2)

Note: although this meal is for 2 it can easily be doubled. Although, cooking time and the size baking dish will need to be taken into consideration.

2 lbs of mussels, scrubbed well

3 stalks of celery, chopped small

2 small or 1 large leek, chopped small (white and light green part only)

1 small or ½ large fennel bulb, chopped small

1 tsp of orange zest

Juice of 1 orange

1 12oz bottle of beer

2 tbsp of butter

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

First, pre heat your oven to 400 degrees. In a baking dish about ten inches wide (give or take) place your celery, leek, and fennel. Place the orange zest, juice, and beer over it all and give it a good stir to mix it all together.

Next, sprinkle the top of it with sea salt and black pepper. Over the veggies place your mussels, and over the top of them scatter your butter in small amounts. Cover the baking dish with foil and place in your oven for about 25 – 30 minutes.

Then, when your time has passed pull the foil off your baking dish and check your mussels. You are looking for the mussels to be popped open and your veggies to be tender. If they are done, then pull them out. If not feel free to place them back in the oven for at least 10 – 15 minutes longer. (How hot you oven gets and the sizing of your dish might call for it to bake longer.)

Finally, when done; serve up your mussels with some of the veggies and the broth beneath it all. It is great to dip potatoes in or bread if you have any and enjoy.

Mar 02

Butternut Squash Gratin, a late winter cure.

There are moments during the late winter when all you want is something warm, gooey, and cheesy to eat.  I don’t know why I feel this way? And I am sure I am not alone in feeling this way. Maybe it is the very few hours we have of daylight? Well, when you get up in the wee early hours of the morning with no sunlight in sight it is easy to understand. In my opinion with it still cold out in the late winter, days are super short, the nights long and so dark, a dish that comforts the dismal end of winter blues must be satisfying. Something maybe like a Butternut Squash Gratin!?! I have made a potato gratin before, but never tried it with any other vegetable. It was time for this culinary creation to take place.

Butternut Squash Gratin

Butternut Squash Gratin

Earlier in the week I had taken a walk to Pike’s Place Market and picked up some produce. A butternut squash was among the many goodies I purchased with no real plan for it, but now a plan was in place. The great thing about this dish is there is no real recipe, just simple guidelines to make this dish bake up beautifully. Those guidelines being: slicing your butternut squash thinly, having a cheese that melts nicely, a baking dish with a rim no more than 2 inches deep, half & half or cream to poor over it all, and some onion or shallot if you wish. Layer all these things together and bake them until it bubbles and oozes in perfection. Out of the oven comes a dish that is cheesy, comforting, and indulgent.

Keeping ll the ingredients organized.

Keeping ll the ingredients organized.

In this dish the butternut squash remains nutty and slightly sweet. It bakes up nicely and the slices become fork tender nestled between layers of cheese. The cheese melts uniformly, and without an oily mess. I choose to use sliced shallot amongst the cheese. I felt that the sharp and bright flavor of the shallot was just what the cheesiness and sweet butternut squash needed for some distinction. I topped the whole dish with some bread crumbs so that while the dish bakes together, the bread crumbs create a crunchy and crisp topping above the soft and tender filling. What is not to like in this dish? How could you not make it with the late winter hanging over us? I promise you this is just what winter dinner calls for.

Served up and ready to be devoured.

Served up and ready to be devoured.

Butternut Squash Gratin

Note: this is an easy dish that can be made ahead of time and reheated (while covered) before serving.

Butternut Squash, peeled and thinly sliced (about ¼ inch thick)

Grated Cheese; Swiss, Emmentaler, Gruyere, or Provolone

Onion, or Shallot; thinly sliced

Cream or Half & Half

Sea Salt and Fresh Black Pepper

Bread Crumbs

Unsalted Butter

First, preheat you oven to 400 degrees. Butter your baking dish and place on a baking sheet. Starting with your Butternut Squash, place and even layer across your baking dish (slightly overlapping). Lightly season the squash with sea salt and black pepper. Over the top of the squash scatter some of the onion or shallot. On top of that, sprinkle and even layer of your grated cheese.

Next, you will want to repeat the process above at least two more times. (Making a total of at least three layers.)

Then, take your half & half or cream and pour it over your layers until you can see it rise up until it is almost to the top of it all. Gently sprinkle your bread crumbs over the top of your dish and place a few pats of butter over the top of it.

Finally; with your dish still on the baking sheet place it all in the oven for about 40 minutes (This will depend on the size of your dish and how thick your layers were). Bake it all until the cheese is bubbly & melted, and the topping all crispy. Check its doneness by piercing the squash with a knife, if the squash is tender then it is ready. Remove from the oven and let cool about 15 minutes to let it all settle before serving.

Feb 20

Whole Wheat Waffles with Flax Seed are great for dinner.

So much to do, and so little time to get it done in. That is how the past couple of weeks seemed to be going for me. I did however squeeze in time to finish two of the books I have had waiting for me and I so enjoyed the time I spent with them. It was glorious. I didn’t get to the ironing like I had wanted to but there are priorities.

We also finally finished the 2,000 piece puzzle that had been consuming our dining room table. It was daunting, but Brian worked so hard on it. Many hours were spent hovering over those tiny puzzle pieces and gazing at that copy of the painting Starry Night figuring out what goes where and how. After it was finished I had a hard time taking it a part to put it away. Brian worked really hard at it and somehow it became a part of us. Not to mention it was pretty to look at.

Finally completed 2,000 piece Starry Night puzzle.

Finally completed 2,000 piece Starry Night puzzle.

But we did. I came home from work on the weekend to see the puzzle packed up and put away. I had a gloomy moment looking at my blank dining table, and then I realized that I can finally dust the table top. Not being able to clean to top of the table with the puzzle on it was getting to me (I might have small obsessive compulsive moments, but I admit it…and that makes it okay.) Since Brian had packed up the puzzle and cleaned the table top I went into the kitchen to start making dinner. I picked up some mustard greens at the farmers market and the only thing I really wanted to do when I saw them was make waffles.

Whole wheat waffles with flax seed – trying to keep with our mindful eating this year, a whole wheat waffle was a perfect accompaniment. I sautéed the mustard greens with garlic and crushed red pepper in some olive oil while I gathered the ingredients for the waffles. After I mixed the waffles and had them cooking in the waffle iron I scrambled up some eggs and put some bacon in the oven (yes, tempeh bacon for me) and dinner was just about ready. When the waffles were ready and came off the iron all crispy we placed them on our plates with the mustard greens, scrambled eggs, bacon, and real maple syrup of course! Whole wheat waffle perfection, on a newly cleaned and freshly cleared table. An ideal meal even with being busy.

Whole Wheat Waffle with Flaxseed

Whole Wheat Waffle with Flaxseed

Whole Wheat Waffles with Flax Seed (makes about 4 – 6 waffles)

1 cup of AP flour

1 cup of whole wheat flour

½ tsp of sea salt

2 tbsp of sugar

2 tbsp of flax seed

1 tsp of baking soda

1 ½ cup of buttermilk

2 eggs, separated

4 tbsp of butter, melted (plus extra for serving)

1 tsp of vanilla extract

Real maple syrup, for serving

First, preheat your waffle iron according to its own instructions. Then in a bowl whisk together your flour, whole wheat flour, sea salt, sugar, baking soda, and flax seed and set aside.

Next, in a small bowl place your buttermilk and egg yolks. Whisk them together and then slowly add your melted butter while whisking until it is emulsified.

Meanwhile, in a bowl of an electric mixer add your two egg whites and mix on high with the whisk attachment until they reach a stiff peak and set aside.

Then, stir your buttermilk mixture into your flour mixture. Be sure that all the mixture is moistened and not lumpy. When you are done mixing that together gently fold your whipped egg whites into the batter until light, fluffy, and well mixed.

Finally, when your waffle iron is heated through pour your batter into the iron and precede with your waffle irons instructions. When your waffles are done remove from the iron and serve immediately.

Feb 13

Almond Cupcakes with Italian Vanilla Bean Buttercream

Undoubtedly, the month of February is here and that holiday that so many of us swoon over is upon us. Valentine’s Day is probably the one holiday that I just don’t understand. It is possibly due to my cynical self; but I just do not fall for it. In my opinion this is one of those days that has crazy expectations but to have one day for proclaiming and showing your love seems a bit absurd to me.

I know many who think I am crazy. I have been told that I am weird for feeling this way. I was even once accused of only feeling this way because I already had a husband! But if you know me you would understand how I feel – there are 365 days in order to tell, show, and express how you care for someone…why do we need just one day to do it?

Almond Cupcakes getting iced.

Almond Cupcakes getting iced.

Since I know that there are many who disagree with me I decided to share something sweet for the sweetest of sweet days we have out of the year. As always I may not go the traditional route of chocolate to proclaim my affection. Instead, I choose Almond Cupcakes with an Italian Vanilla Bean Buttercream. I made these for Brian last week when I thought he needed something sweet to get though the week. A moist almond cake with bits of almond paste throughout only to be topped with a lightly sweet and silky icing is lovely if you ask me. I may not need Valentine’s Day to share them with Brian, but I will take the time out on this day to express to him that I love him. Okay, that is about as sappy as I get! To all of you out there, Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you share it with someone special, and maybe make these cupcakes with them!?!

Almond Cupcakes iced with Italian Vanilla Bean Buttercream (and pretty pink sprinkles)

Almond Cupcakes iced with Italian Vanilla Bean Buttercream (and pretty pink sprinkles)

Almond Cupcakes (makes about 16 – 18 large cupcakes)

Note: This is one of those recipes that you really need to use a scale for. Although I have tried to convert it the cups, but it never really works out. After years of tweaking this recipe is best when weighed out on a scale.

15 oz of AP flour

1 tbsp of baking powder

1 tsp of sea salt

8 oz of butter

10 oz of sugar

11oz of brown sugar

4 oz of almond paste

2 tsp of vanilla extract

1 tsp of almond extract

4 whole eggs

1 ½ cup of Milk

First, line your cupcake pans with your wrappers and pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees. In a small bowl whisk together your flour, baking powder, and sea salt then set aside.

Next, in the bowl of an electric mixer place your butter and sugars and mix together with your paddle attachment until it is light, fluffy, and well combined. To this add your almond paste and mix until your almond paste is broken down and well combined with the butter and sugars. You might need to stop and scrape down the bowl a couple times while doing this. To this add your vanilla extract, almond extract, and eggs. Be sure all is incorporated well before moving on.

Then, in iterations add your flour mixture to your butter mixture and then the milk. Do so in three intervals and be sure to scrape down the sides in between that all gets incorporated when mixing. Continue until all your batter is cohesive and well combined.

Finally, poor your batter into your cupcake wrappers until they are anywhere from 2/3 to 3/4  full. Bake your cupcakes until they are slightly firm to the touch and golden. About 25 – 30 minutes. (You might want to test by inserting a toothpick into the center and checking that it is clean when removed.) Let cool on rack and top them with icing recipe that follows.

Silky Italian Buttercream flavored with Vanilla Beans is perfect for  these Almond Cupcakes.

Silky Italian Buttercream flavored with Vanilla Beans is perfect for these Almond Cupcakes.

Italian Vanilla Bean Buttercream

6 egg whites

1 ¼ cup of sugar

2/3 cup of water

1 pound of butter, room temperature

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

First, in a clean saucepan place the sugar and water together and mix lightly until the sugar is moistened. Place it over medium heat and wait until the sugar begins to boil. Using a candy thermometer be sure that the mixture reaches 238 degrees (also known as the soft ball stage of cooking sugar).

Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer place your egg whites and whisk on high speed until it begins to foam and doubles in size. Once doubled in size you can turn your mixer off until your sugar is ready.

Then, when your sugar reaches its temperature; and with the mixer running again on high, slowly pours the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl in a steady stream. Continue pouring the sugar syrup until it is all in the bowl of your mixer. Mix it all on high until your bowl begins to feel cool to touch. You will see that your egg whites will be at a nice stiff peek and glossy.

Finally, little by little add your butter to the mixture. You will want to be sure that each piece of butter is almost fully incorporated until you add the next one. At this point you will also add your vanilla bean. Your mixture might look like it is “broken” or un-smooth, but keep mixing and it will all come together as it cools down in temperature. When butter is fully mixed in and your mixture it glossy and smooth your icing is ready to use. You can smooth the icing on with an offset spatula or piped with a pastry bag fitted with a tip. (This can be held in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.)

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